Week 6/7-ish of Composition I

I actually don’t have too much to report about the Duke Composition I class because, well, not much has been going on in it lately– other than me not getting some things done that I should have gotten done.  Nothing is really different; there is just more of it. More on this below, but just to get repetitive: it still feels very anonymous and locked in lost time to me.  When a class like this is taking place face to face and in a small group, the interaction becomes critical to the whole point of the class.  When that’s not there, well, what’s the point?

But first, many MANY MOOC article links and the like, so many I’ll just mostly link here:

  • I was going to post this list of links and my latest response to the Duke MOOC earlier this week, but I got distracted and busy with other things.  I’m glad I waited now because just the other day from CHE comes “Why Professors at San Jose State Won’t Use a Harvard Professor’s MOOC” by Steve Kolowich.  Go read the whole thing– well worth it– but to summarize:  faculty in Philosophy at SJSU (which MOOC followers will recall is one of the first universities in the U.S. to very publicly incorporate MOOCs into engineering courses) have refused to teach a philosophy course with an edX MOOC developed by Harvard’s Michael Sandel because the SJSU faculty see MOOCs as a tool to replace them, and they go further to suggest that Sandel and “professors who develop MOOCs are complicit in how public universities might use them.” Sandel wrote this response where he claims to know “very little” about what edX was going to do with his course and where he says he “The last think I want is for my online lectures to be used to undermine faculty colleagues at other institutions.” Three observations/tangents here:
    • Alert readers will recognize that Michael Sandel is the guy that Thomas Friedman has a middle-school crush on in this column from March where he once again spouts off crazy stuff about MOOCs and transforming education.
    • I’ve been raising the concern about MOOCs from elite institutions having the effect of further marginalizing the likes of SJSU (and EMU) for quite some time.
    • You know, I’m not going to say that Sandel is lying in his response where he says he had no idea how edX might try to use his online course materials. But either Sandel is not being entirely truthful or he is not quite as brilliant and broad of a thinker as Friedman and the folks at edX might think.
  • “I’m Failing My MOOC” by John Warner, from Inside Higher Ed and also about the same Duke Composition I course.  I mostly agree with Warner’s main review: the content of the MOOC is okay to pretty good, but “content by itself is a very limited part of what matters in terms of teaching and learning.”
  • “Students Avoid ‘Difficult’ Online Courses, Study Finds” in CHE by Ann Schnobelen. I don’t know if this is really about MOOCs and I don’t know if this is really about the kinds of online courses I teach, but basically, the study (with only 46 students) suggests that students pick classes to take online that they find easy to “teach themselves.” I can see the point and see how it connects with the potential role of MOOCs, but in my experience, most of my students who choose to take classes online because of how it fits into their schedules and lives.  The most typical student in my undergrad online courses are women (single or not) with babies or very young children at home.
  • “MOOCs and the Quality Question” by Ronald Legon, an Inside Higher Ed piece about the evolving nature of MOOCs. The term “MOOC 2.0” comes up, which strikes me as a tad premature.
  • “Of Machine Guns and MOOCs: 21st Century Engineering Disasters” by Pat Lockley at Hybrid Pedagogy.  It’s kind of an interesting analogy, but I’m not sure it’s an argument that really holds together for me.
  • “The War on the Humanities has Three Fronts (Part 1: The Right Wing),” a post on Karen Michalson’s blog.  I think Michalson has a lot of good points here about how things like MOOCs are favored by the right wing (which generally is not that crazy about paying for this pesky “public” education in the first place) and she links to a lot of good stuff. The problem though is she avoids the hard to escape reality that MOOCs in higher ed are getting the most traction in Democrat-thick California.
  • “The World is Not Flat” by Ry Rivard is an interesting (albeit long) InsideHigher Ed piece that makes a pretty compelling argument that the American/English-speaking version of MOOCs might not work in all parts of the world and may represent a sort of “intellectual neo-colonialism (PDF).” That link leads to a book/collection of essays published by the Commonwealth of Learning in 2012 called Open Educational Resources and Change in Higher Education: Reflections from Practice.  Definitely something worth looking at later: basically, it’s a collection of essays about international trends in Open Educational Resources (OER) and online instruction in higher ed.
  • “Before MOOCs, ‘Colleges of the Air'” by Susan Matt and Luke Fernandez and on the CHE  blog/site about classes that were offered over the radio back in the 1920s and 30s. Good stuff, and another one of those pieces that suggests to me that there might still be a project in me about technologies of teaching before the computer– especially in “distance ed” and “correspondence” formats.  And this quote rings especially true for me:  “The problem of what MOOCs add up remains. While some universities have promised to accept them for credit, in the long term, we may find, as proponents of radio did, that the courses play at best a minor role in helping students earn degrees.”  Oh, and speaking of which:
  • “MOOCs, History, and Context” in Inside Higher Ed where Arthur Levine talks about literally hundreds of years of transformations in higher education to MOOCs in, well, context.
  • “Duke Faculty Say No” also by Ry Rivard and Inside HigherEd.  Faculty at Duke forced the university to back out of a deal with nine other universities to “create a pool of for-credit online classes for undergraduates,” apparently with an outfit called Semester Online and a deal that has been in the works since 2012. And as a reminder of something I’ve mentioned here before: while Duke seems perfectly willing to support its faculty developing MOOCs that might someday be offered for credit at other institutions by Coursera, they are not willing to accept those credits at their own institution.  By the way, Semester Online seems somewhat reasonable to me:  “Unlike massive open online courses, or MOOCs, only a few hundred students were expected to enroll in each course – which would feature a mix of recorded lectures and live discussions – but each course would be divided into sections of no more than 20 students led by an instructor, perhaps a graduate student.”
  • Finally, there’s this strange “map” of the “Major Players” in the MOOC Universe from CHE:

There are many problems with this, but I’ll just mention two for now.  First, Khan Academy is not a MOOC in any way, shape, or form. Not even close. Second, Cathy Davidson is just not that big of a player in the “MOOC-iverse,” and even she says this in this post, which ultimately brings things back to HASTAC.

Okay, after all that (!), a few words about the Duke Composition MOOC:

What’s going on? The short version is not much new, though as I look at this now, it looks like I’m starting to miss some stuff, too.  For example, I just realized– almost a week too late– that I missed a quiz that is a “self-reflection” on the first project.  For example, here’s the first question:

Question 1
The following are Project 1 Learning Objectives:

* summarize, question, analyze, and evaluate written text (read critically);
* engage with the work of others;
* understand the stages of the writing process;
* provide feedback on others’ drafts to help them revise and improve;
* incorporate reader feedback;
* revise and improve drafts of your writing;
* integrate quotes/evidence;
* cite the work of others; and
* craft effective titles.

Please choose one of the above learning objectives, and identify a specific passage or passages from your Project 1 that demonstrate your progress towards that objective. In the space provided here, write the objective, and then copy and paste the passage(s) from your Project 1 that demonstrate your progress toward that objective. Indicate the Project 1 page number(s) too.

I think this is the sort of thing that might be useful, but only if there had been some kind of discussion about it (even a “talking head” lecture to explain this a bit would have been helpful– though to be fair, since I’m missing other things, maybe I’m missing that too), and only right after I received the final feedback on this first project. As it is, I’m already on to thinking about other things for this class, like the second project, where there’s a final review due in three days, and the third project, which I haven’t even started yet and which apparently involves an annotated bibliography of some sort. It’s a lot to keep straight.

And that’s one of the main problems I’m having with the Duke Composition I MOOC as it goes on: it seems to be growing.  Now there are these “quizzes” that weren’t there before. Denise has just added (or rather the Coursera people added it for her, I presume) “Professor Comer’s Corner,” a place on the site where she wrote a fairly long reflection on the first assignment, which she herself completed, and some of her experiences and challenges over the years with writing and peer review. Interestingly enough, I don’t think it is a reflection that quite “fits” in terms of the reflection assignment she gave; so it’s a little fuzzy to me what to “do” with this.

There wasn’t a whole not new with the “Visual Image Depicting Expertise” assignment, either. The peers I reviewed this time seemed a little weaker than some of the previous students I reviewed– perhaps the “luck of the draw,” perhaps the nature of the assignment, which I still don’t quite understand.  And the review I received didn’t give me a lot of direction for revising.  Here’s what peers said (and I want to note that this review did not include a warning about not reproducing feedback elsewhere):

Where does the writer describe the image? Is that description sufficient to convey the important features of the image to readers who may not see the image or have time to examine it thoroughly?

peer 1 → The writer describes the image on Pg 2 para 3. Yes, the description is sufficient to convey the important features of the image.
peer 2 → The writer describes the image in the fifth paragraph. I think it is ok but he/she can do better.
peer 3 → in 4th paragraph there is description of image.yes

Where does the writer analyze the image? Is that sufficient to convey the important aspects of the image to readers who may not see the image or have time to examine it thoroughly?
peer 1 → The writer analyzes the image after describing the image in detail (Pg 3). The description is detailed and thorough.
peer 2 → In the sixth and seventh paragraph, the author some mild evidence from the Coyle’s work to analyze the image.
peer 3 → in 4th and 5th paragraph writer analyse the image.The analysis of image sufficiently convey the important aspects of image.

Where does the writer use analysis to pose a question about the image or about expertise, or to show how the image supports, extends, contradicts, or modifies Coyle’s and/or Colvin’s ideas about expertise?
peer 1 → The writer shows how the image supports, extends, contradicts Colvin’s ideas about expertise on the second page.
peer 2 → The writer did not actually raise any questions per say.

Summarize in a sentence or two what the writer is arguing, if you can. If you cannot, say what the writer might do to make the argument more clear. Which of the criteria for effective claims does this argument meet (see Video 05_02)?
peer 1 → The writer has decided to chose an image of writers at a workshop. This image shows several writers discussing (maybe their writing). This is in contrast to what we generally believe about writers. The image that we see of writers are of writing in solitude or surrounded by books. The argument is compelling, contestable, clear, complex.
peer 2 → The author is trying to use the concept thought in Colyle’s chapter one to explicate how people could become expert writers.

What evidence does the writer draw on for his or her argument? Has the writer effectively integrated and cited evidence, including the image and any other quotes or references? If not, say what the writer might do to integrate and cite the image, quotes, or evidence more effectively.
peer 1 → The writer has cited Colvin’s work in the essay. It would be a good idea to put references at the end of the paper. The writer mentions Colvin’s article in fortune magazine, but if a reader is not aware of it then how can he/she find it.
peer 2 → The writer cited the works of Colvin and Coyle as evidence but did not use the guidelines in the video to cite effectively.

Has the writer organized the paper effectively in terms of paragraph order and paragraph unity? If not, what changes would you suggest for more effective organization?
peer 1 → The essay is organized well.
peer 2 → The author has organized the draft effective.
Are there so many unconventional features in the writing (spelling, sentence structure, vocabulary, and so on) that you found them interfering with your reading? If so, identify in particular one of these features so the writer can focus on it for his or her revision.
peer 1 → The essay is well-written and free of spelling or grammar errors.
peer 2 → The writer should work more on how to cite effectively and also endeavor to used scholarly citing guidelines in order to avoid plagiarism.

What did you like best about this essay?
peer 1 → The essay is well organized and structured. It is easy to read, and the writer has described the image well.
peer 2 → A summary

What did you learn about your own writing/your own project based on responding to this writer’s essay?
peer 1 → If the essay is written well then it becomes interesting to read. I felt like I wanted to read more on the topic.
peer 2 → I learned that no matter how good your argument is, you must use scholarly citing principles to add credence to your work

One thing I just noticed now in looking at this again quickly: I had three peers start my review, but peer 3 appears to have bailed out/gotten bored with the whole thing.

Anyway, I press on. One of the things I am going to try to do this weekend is just figure out what the hell is going on in the class. Apparently, there’s an annotated bibliography assignment coming up; I guess I need to figure out something to research and figure it out quick.

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3 Responses to Week 6/7-ish of Composition I

  1. Joe Harris says:


    A fun post, thanks. One point I’d like to argue with, though: You say that Semester Online strikes you as “somewhat reasonable.” How so? Even if it is not quite a MOOC, it is the online equivalent of a giant lecture course, enrolling several hundred students, and reduces teachers who actually interact with students to the status of TAs. What’s reasonable about that as a form of teaching and learning?

    But also, you gotta love those philosophers at San Jose State, don’t you? Michael Sandel has it coming.


    • Steve Krause says:

      Well, as it’s described in that Inside Higher Ed article, Semester Online is described as featuring “a mix of recorded lectures and live discussions – but each course would be divided into sections of no more than 20 students led by an instructor, perhaps a graduate student.” That seems like there is actual interaction with teachers, albeit not necessarily tenure-track instructors.

      And really, what they’re describing here is the way first year composition typically works at large, public institutions. I mean, what’s the difference between this and a fycomp program that requires a specific textbook and specific assignments across all 75-150 sections, courses that are taught almost exclusively by grad students and part-timers?

  2. Pingback: A shift in the MOOCmentum: coverage of and conversations around our open letter to Michael Sandel (part 2). | Adventures in Ethics and Science

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